The Banshees of Inisherin, by Cameron J. Czaja

It’s the new year and that means two things; one, it’s time to start making resolutions that I’ll give up by the end of the month and, two, it’s also the tail end of Oscar Season. For those of you who aren’t aware, Oscar season is basically that time of year where major Hollywood studios push out films set to be critically acclaimed for major film awards leading into the Oscars themselves. It usually starts around October, gains some momentum in November, but December is usually the height of that season due to it being the last month for a film to qualify. Back in November, I saw one film that was gaining traction for awards season, which was the dark comedy film The Banshees of Inisherin (2022).

This film was something that I didn’t really have on my radar for quite some time, but once I found out who the director was, then I became interested. It is Martin McDonagh, and two of his previous films, Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), were odd but humorous movies that had a unique balance of interesting characters with a bonkers premise. The Banshees of Inisherin, though, does fit that mold, but unlike the other two films I mentioned, takes place in the early twentieth century during the Irish Civil War. Still, without having seen any trailer or advertisement for the film, I was hopefully optimistic for a potentially fun film to the same degree as the director’s usual work. 

Also, one thing I forgot to mention in my first paragraph, there’s one type of film released during Oscar season where it is an Oscar bait film disguised as a genuinely decent film. These Oscar bait films are usually films that try so hard to stand out and be flashy as possible, but fail to produce anything noteworthy and/or thought provoking. One recent example is the David O. Russell film Amsterdam (2022), which had all the star power but failed to execute an interesting premise. Was The Banshees of Inisherin another example of an Oscar bait film? As usual, let’s find out.

Set in 1923 during the Irish Civil War on the fictional isle of Inisherin, The Banshees of Inisherin follows Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), a simple but friendly herder who lives with his sister Siobhán Súilleabháin (Kerry Condon) in a small house. Every afternoon, Pádraic likes to go to the local pub and drink with his long-time friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson). One day, however, when Pádraic goes to Colm’s house so they can walk over to the pub, Colm ignores Pádraic’s invitation. Thinking that Colm will just meet him there, Pádraic simply walks over to pub and begins to worry why Colm isn’t coming over. He then comes home, briefly talks to his sister, and then heads back to the pub only to discover Colm is now present. Still, Colm ignores Pádraic. Feeling bitter, Pádraic then gets aggressive with his demeanor and asks why Colm is ignoring him. Colm tells Pádraic that he doesn’t like him and doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Colm does specify that Pádraic didn’t do anything wrong, nor say anything that might’ve offended him, but Colm doesn’t want to associate with Pádraic mainly because he wants to spend the remainder of his days making music and doing something better with his life than just having dull conversations. This upsets Pádraic and throughout the film he tries to get Colm to change his ways. This, however, starts to annoy Colm quite a bit to where he even threatens Pádraic in a very unique way by telling him that every time he starts to annoy him, he will cut off one of his fingers and throws it at Pádraic’s door until he has none left in his right hand. Pádraic, though, thinks Colm is bluffing. Not so as during one meal, they hear a bump at the door and discover that it was one of Colm’s fingers. From there, the whole island starts noticing the feud between the two former friends, wondering if things will ever go back to where they were. 

So, when I first started watching The Banshees of Inisherin, I started to feel a little bit guilty. Not really for the content itself, but mainly because it was a film that takes place in Ireland and my grandmother (whose family heritage traces to Ireland) would’ve been irritated with me if I had seen this without her because she loves watching movies in that setting. As the film progressed, I knew I made the right decision by not inviting her because cutting one’s fingers off wasn’t the only thing dark thing in this film. In fact, this is definitely a dark comedy that my grandmother and others would find disturbing. Me on the other hand, really enjoyed this quite a bit; maybe not the idea of seeing an individual cutting off one’s fingers, but other things in the film itself. 

Make no mistake, The Banshees of Inisherin (like most of my films I’ve reviewed in the past) is a cautionary tale. Honestly, I like reviewing these types of films because it sometimes features a scenario that we could find ourselves in. In this case, it shows how attempting to end a friendship can go down when both parties don’t agree on a certain decision. Unfortunately, friendships do end and sometimes they are beyond our control. I can’t recall how many friends I “lost” on Facebook in the past couple of years due to disagreements on COVID and politics, but I do feel bad unintentionally losing a friend because of disagreements. Colm, on the other hand, doesn’t have that remorse for ending his friendship with Pádraic, which backfires quickly on him. 

Despite Colm being the petty throughout The Banshees of Inisherin, Pádraic stoops to actions that he wouldn’t normally do such as, but not limited to, lying, assault, and arson. These sinful activities does get the best of him and he feels guilty about them. In fact, Colm also feels remorse caused by cutting off his fingers, so much so that he visits the local priest for confession. This shows that despite the flawed nature of Colm, he does try to receive reconciliation for certain actions that I won’t bring due to it being a spoiler. 

The Banshees of Inisherin, for the most part, could be a tough sell for fellow Catholics. Sure, there’s the lovely Irish scenery, scenes of reconciliation, and beautiful Catholic imagery, such as a statue of the Virgin Mary that is shown throughout the film on a main road. At the same time, however, the dark themes (including death itself) may turn some folks away. I, on the other hand, found this film fascinating from the direction, writing, acting, cinematography, but importantly the flawed characters that we can relate to a certain degree, mostly through acknowledging and avoiding their mistakes. The Banshees of Inisherin may not be a 2022 film I will rewatch compared to others released this year such as Everything Everywhere All At Once or Top Gun: Maverick, but it’s certainly one that I will think about when it comes to maintaining friendships. Weird, I know, but it is effective when I think about the friends I want to keep with me in the new year.

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